Around The Yard: Libby Manela

Returning to for a fourth season, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" explores life away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrativeFor a full list of blog entries, click here.

For more student blogs from Harvard Admissions, click here.

Libby Manela
October 11, 2017

There are many core qualities that are bred into the ethos of a Harvard student-athlete. For one, we are taught balance—how to make each side of the river compatible with the other. We are also taught commitment—how to dedicate yourself fully to a goal with a viable chance of failure. The list goes on and on, but as I spoke with one of my English professors today about the power of positive thinking, I realized the one part of being a student-athlete that has propelled me far beyond where I thought I would ever be. 

When I was 10 years old, one of my friends had a birthday party at the Houston Aquarium. As a young child, I was extremely apprehensive about anything I did—every decision was meticulously calculated, every sentence I uttered had been thoroughly vetted and passed through the numerous filters between my brain and my mouth, and my 10-year-old version of risk analysis prevented me from doing just about anything remotely dangerous or thrilling. At this birthday party, as all my friends headed towards the one roller coaster on the property, I looked at them from a comfortable distance, insisting that there was no way I would ever get on that roller coaster and bidding them an appropriate goodbye, for as my risk analysis proved, there was a viable chance I would never see them again. The power of negative thinking. 

Fast forward another decade, and I found myself in Princeton, New Jersey facing another dilemma of risk. As my team approached the field of another team whose winning streak against Harvard outdated our own births, there was no analysis going through my head. There was no apprehension—not when the first whistle blew, not when the first goal was scored against me, not even after the second goal was scored against me. The risk that we would lose the game was statistically high, but my mindset was completely different. The only thing racing through my head was how intensely I wanted to beat the team, so we did.

Harvard has taught me to interpret risk in a whole different way. Every opportunity to fail is also an opportunity to succeed. The positive mindset required to interpret the latter is not something I came to Harvard equipped with, however, the program I am privileged to be a part of and the school that welcomed me with open arms taught me that sometimes, the thrill of the roller coaster is worth the risk. 

The power of positive thinking has infiltrated my life now in many ways. This summer, I worked on the defense team for a high-profile murder trial. I was absolutely hooked into the mindset of a criminal defense lawyer, the ultimate manifestation of positive thinking. To defend an alleged criminal, you have to see the positivity in the process—your argument has to reflect a positive narrative, and you have to be an absolutely saturated beacon of positivity for your client to get them through the turmoil of trial. Every opportunity to present a case is an opportunity to win it. 

Bringing that forward into this season, some of my teammates have noticed that I have a new catch-phrase: “That’s the power of positive thinking. It’s real—look it up.” Our disposition towards anything, whether it’s a game, an exam, or a major life event, has a lot of power in determining outcomes. So yes, it’s real. Look it up.